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How to Choose Ballistic Eyewear

It’s not that long ago that protective eyewear in the military meant a pair of Ray-Ban Aviators or wraparound Oakleys. That’s all changed now. Today’s operations, combined with improved technology, have made good protective glasses or goggles a must-have for anyone who’s about to deploy or take on a high-risk security job. Choosing the right equipment will help you operate better and protect your eyesight against a whole range of common threats.

Recent conflicts have mostly taken place in arid environments, where dust and sand are a common cause of eye problems. That’s especially true on mounted ops – if you’re doing top cover in a vehicle you absolutely need good goggles, or a few minutes will be enough to leave you with streaming, half-blind eyes. Standard off-road or ski goggles will protect from that hazard, but they won’t help against another danger of modern operations – IEDs.

Years ago, ballistic eyewear didn’t make a lot of sense when the main threat was artillery or direct fire – they couldn’t offer any protection from those types of hazards. However, the profusion of terrorist bombs has changed that. IEDs create a major fragmentation hazard but much of it is small, relatively light fragments. Modern ballistic eyewear can stop these, and new advances in polycarbonates mean you can get that strength in a lightweight package.

Glasses or Goggles?

When you’re choosing tactical eyewear, the first thing to decide is if you need glasses or goggles. We recommend that everyone should have a good set of ballistic glasses; they’re low profile and compact, and can be slipped in a pocket when you don’t need them. Your best choice is a wraparound style, because this gives better all-round protection. There’s a wide range to choose from, including models from manufacturers like Oakley, Edge and ESS. Modern designs look smart as well as giving excellent protection, which helps maintain credibility when you’re dealing with locals.

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If you operate in open vehicles, add a pair of goggles to your kit. Glasses do a good job, but if you’re up in the top hatch for a few hours, sand and grit will eventually find its way in around the frames. Goggles prevent that, and current models are also light and well-ventilated, so they’re comfortable to wear for extended periods. In the event of an attack, they also protect more of your face.

Features to Look For

Whatever style of ballistic eyewear you’re looking for, there are a few features you should check for.

  • Impact Resistance: There are several industry standards for impact resistance; look for ANSI Z87.1 high-velocity impact certification at a minimum. The ideal standard is MIL PRF-31013, the current military ballistic impact specification. In goggles you’ll often also find MIL-DTL-43511D certification. Lenses meeting that standard will stop at .22 caliber projectile at high subsonic velocity, and give excellent protection against IED fragmentation.
  • Lens Color: In temperate climates or if you’re working with optics, clear lenses are perfect. Amber or dark lenses work better in bright sunlight. A lot of ballistic eyewear comes with interchangeable lenses. The Oakley SI series, for example, features clear, persimmon and gray options. These are ideal, letting you easily change lenses to suit current conditions.

Of course, if you’re active duty, you should take a look at the Authorized Protective Eyewear List (APEL) before you buy.

It’s easy to overlook eyewear when you’re making a kit list. Many people also just assume that official issue items will work for them, but that’s not always the case. If you’re issued with eyewear but find it uncomfortable, there’s a good chance you won’t be wearing it when it counts. That’s bad news, so it’s much better to try a few sets until you find something that suits. The price of good ballistic eyewear is a small investment for the comfort and security it gives you.

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